Although no sanctions are to be imposed for failure to live up to the code, Ronnie Smith, the EIS's general secretary, took the GTC to task. "There is a general understanding among teachers and the wider community about what constitutes a reasonable standard of conduct," Mr Smith said. "Specifying this in a written code will not make any material difference to the conduct of teachers. It is therefore unnecessary and pointless."
The proposed code is couched in unexceptional terms and requires registered teachers to "safeguard and promote the interests and well-being of learners" and "have a working knowledge of his or her pastoral, contractual, legal and administrative responsibilities". Ivor Sutherland, the GTC's registrar, defended it as necessary and desirable. "Teachers are vulnerable in not having a code and the absence of one does not look good in relation to other professions who all have a set of guiding principles," Mr Sutherland said.
The council frequently received requests for copies of the teachers' professional code and it was a matter of some embarrassment to have to reply that none existed. He acknowledged there were suspicions that this was "another set of burdens and rules on which teachers could be hung".
But a code was very different from the GTC's disciplinary procedures or from any appraisal mechanism that might be introduced, Mr Sutherland said.
The new "guiding principles" also have implications for school management, as the draft code seeks to ensure that "professional skills are maintained at a high level of competence". Mr Sutherland said this was in line with the development of teachers as "reflective practitioners who need professional replenishment, which includes an entitlement that the employer provides the necessary time and opportunity".
The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association takes a more supportive view than the EIS. Barbara Clark, the union's assistant general secretary, said the code contained "nothing contentious". She would, however, have preferred a stronger indication of the "double jeopardy" teachers faced because trouble with the law automatically brings a teacher to the notice of the GTC's disciplinary machinery.
"Some teachers think that, in order to avoid publicity when there is a charge against them, the best course is to plead guilty by letter," Mrs Clark said. "The next thing that happens is they are contacted by the GTC saying the council intends investigating their case, when they might not even have told their families."
The draft code simply refers in broad terms to the need for teachers to "maintain at all times appropriately professional relationships with learners". It also says teachers must "justify public trust and confidence and enhance the esteem in which the profession is held".
Copies of the code will shortly be issued for comment to every teacher in Scotland via Link, the council's journal.